Transphorm, a new technology startup out of UC Santa Barbara, garnered the attention of Google Ventures and other top investors last February, receiving a total of $25 million in investment.
Headed by UCSB professor Umesh K. Mishra, Transphorm aims to reduce up to 90 percent of the 10 percent of energy lost from a host of consumer appliances and alternative energy vehicles in direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) conversions by using gallium nitride, a lab-grown silicon alternative. Gallium nitride has been used successfully in the LED industry, but has yet to be implemented in large-scale conversion, where silicon has reigned unrivaled for years.
The company maintains a small factory and some 70 employees at its Santa Barbara headquarters, using third-party foundries for production. Mishra, who has worked with gallium nitride since 1993, previously formed the LED producer Nitreous in 1996, which was later sold to Cree Inc.
“We believe we are creating a whole new industry,” said Mishra during a phone interview. “We are the first company to launch a total high voltage gallium nitride solution, and we are excited that we are leading the pack.”
Many consumer products are dependent upon power conversion devices to shift the AC electricity emitted from a power plant to DC for charging electronics. Inevitably a fraction of energy is lost in the conversion, and Transphorm aims to reduce that loss.
“Everywhere—in washing machines, motors, microwaves, servers, all around you, power is lost and by converting it we are making that power available to you,” said Mishra.
Mishra approached Google in February, and stated that “(They) were pleased to invest and moved very, very quickly.” The startup was an obvious choice for the Internet giant, which suffers high electricity costs in cooling their over 450,000 servers. “It is this part of technology Google was particularly sorry about … they know that the problem we are solving is a real issue.”
Since the cost of manufacturing gallium nitride runs higher than silicon alternatives, its an issue Transphorm will need to resolve if it is to broaden its market reach.
But for now, the company is off to a promising start, and plans an international launch within the year that will see transistor implementation in a range of products. With additional investments from Kliener Perkins, Foundation Capital, and Lux Capital, Transphorm has raised a total $63 million since its founding in 2007.